Live Review: A Place To Bury Strangers @ Union Transfer, 3/29/12

 I really can't think of a better reason to drive to Philadelphia and back on a Thursday night than to see A Place to Bury Strangers live. Having pulled this stunt before, I know that it's always gonna be worth that trip. So up to Philly I went when APTBS landed at Union Transfer on their recent tour with The Joy Formidable. And once again, the drive was more than worth it.

This was my first visit to Union Transfer, and I vowed it wouldn't be the last. The place had quite the saloon-meets-carnival vibe to it, and the main show space was quite nice indeed. As the three noiseniks set up their instruments of noisemongering, Spacemen 3 played on the club's soundsystem. Coincidence? I like to think of it more as divine providence. Standing up front, right by one of the giant speakers, my ears and I felt a little afeared. But that soon gave way to excitement. After all, what's a little hearing damage between a girl and one of her favorite live bands?

One of the best things about seeing APTBS live, in my opinion, is that they make each set feel like a completely unique entity. Not that I have a problem with bands using the same set of songs night after night, mind you, but even when this band plays essentially the same songs (though usually in a different order), it always feels special. The set at Union Transfer, for example, was a song longer than the set in DC a few nights previous, and despite the relatively similar sets, this show felt worlds apart. The set in Philly began with my current favorite APTBS song, "Ego Death." The maniacal, driving snarl was as dark, murky, and fucking loud as ever, the towering, impenetrable wall of noise given voice in Oliver Ackermann's velvet growl.

The stage personas of the two axemen were quickly exhibited; Ackermann's wirey, wired fits of thrashing and bassist Dion Lunadon's powerful, deliberate, almost stalking posturing. Speaking from the experience of five or six prior shows, the band says a grand total of five words to the audience, but in Philly they had the most to say of any APTBS show I've ever been to. Oliver even cracked a smile when from the bowels of the crowd someone hollered, "Where's the mustache?" in reference to Ackermann's dearly-departed 'stache. It was a lighthearted moment that took a bit of the intensity away, but it was a moment soon drowned out by the lustily roaring ravages of the band.

Split between material from the new EP Onwards To The Wall and the incredible Exploding Head LP, the band's carefully-planned assault left me feeling pleasurably aurally eviscerated. "So Far Away" was taut and bulky, unrelenting and brutal and beautiful. Closing with "Lost Feeling" was a masterstroke, the slow burn giving way to an onslaught of ferocious buzz and fuzz and razorblade sharpness. 

The quiet after the abrupt end of the set was almost as deafening as the band's songs. "Jesus," a guy near me proclaimed after the last notes of "Lost Feeling" had faded away, in a tone somewhere between dazed and converted. Which is, essentially, the way you should feel after your first time seeing this band. I unwaveringly stand by my constant assertion that A Place to Bury Strangers is one of the best live bands around.

mp3: So Far Away (A Place to Bury Strangers from the Onwards to the Wall EP

[photos by Megan Petty]


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